There’s probably no way to calculate how many children have sat in delight at their first dance performance, often at some version of “Nutcracker.”
That initial joy can soon be followed by signing up for classes.
In other cases, it’s a next generation activity.
For Homestead native Donna Lee, she began lessons at age six or seven and her love of dance led her to Texas Woman’s University after high school to major in dance. That didn’t work out as planned and she returned to Homestead where she became an instructor. The natural progression for someone willing to work hard and take the risks all small business owners do, segued from instructor to owner, and a different building.
Donna Lee Studio of Dance in 1978 was at its 14th Street location. It was actually a house, and having an uncle in construction came in handy. Walls were knocked down, a small office was set up on what had been the front porch, and as business expanded, two more sections were added.
“I had older students who were doing really well, and I wanted them to be able to showcase their talents,” Roach (her married name) explained in a telephone interview.
A performing company would also allow her to bring in guest instructors and choreographers.
“I spent time talking to a teacher in Orlando about how to do this and of course I was told by people in Homestead that wouldn’t work here.”
Undeterred by naysayers, she established Dance Expressions in 1983, and their forty-year celebration performance, "An Evening of Dance" will be Saturday, April 15, 2023, at the Seminole Theatre. Roach, who now lives in North Carolina, will attend the event.
Among the children she taught along the way, was her high school friend’s daughter, Alicia. “I told her I was going to make a dancer of her.”
That turned out to be true in more ways than one. The girl who showed such promise was with Dance Expressions from the beginning. Then as an instructor, “Alicia was my right hand for so many years.”
Those years went by, as they do, and another excellent student, Victoria, “Vicky,” watched her older sisters at dance. Even starting classes when she did, she did have to wait a bit longer to join Dance Expressions, which is for students aged ten to eighteen. After high school she was accepted into the American Repertory Ballet in New Jersey. She danced with several companies until she also returned to Homestead and was brought in as an instructor for one class.
There was no question in Roach’s mind about what should happen as she looked to retirement. “They both grew up in the studio; they were the ones to keep Expressions going,” Roach said of Gonzalez and Norwood.
“Her last recital was 2006,” both women said in thinking of their transition from students to instructors to co-owners. “We knew it was being offered to us as a team.”
They chose to retain the name of Donna Lee Studio of Dance. There are students who are the third generation from some families as well as those newer to the area.
In facing the turmoil of COVID-19 shutdowns, they remembered Roach having the studio re-opened fairly quickly after Hurricane Andrew. “You girls need to dance,” is what she told them. It provided a sense of normality amidst lingering destruction.
The pandemic was a different type of disaster, yet the concept of finding a way to be as normal as possible was the same.
“We gathered what tech skills we had which are much stronger now than then,” Gonzalez said. They began virtual operations almost immediately and managed to find a ballroom at Dadeland Marriott to rent in order to have a Christmas Show. There was enough room to spread out although they did have to build a stage.
The following Spring Show was a virtual performance and members of Expressions talked about how they could see the good that dance was doing for people.
The business did regain normal operations as restrictions were lifted.
The total student population is around 350 and the performing company has grown to almost fifty members.
Forty-plus years for the studio and forty years for Dance Expressions equals many students. “I think it will always be part of my identity,” Roach said, “We came from humble beginnings in that little house.”
While only a small percent of students enter dance professionally, it benefits in other ways. “Dance builds a lot of self-confidence. Just to be able to go out on the stage; that takes a lot to be in front of an audience.”
There is another aspect, too. “It develops poise and it’s a healthy activity. I still stand straight with my posture; you carry it with you the rest of your life.”
To learn more about Donna Lee Studio of Dance and Expressions Dance, go to https://www.donnaleestudioofdance.com/; Tel: 305-247-3826;
E-mail: email@example.com Follow them on Facebook and Instagram as well.
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